Know the Data, Know the Customer

“In this age of digitization, humans crave analog. And so the reality of retail is repurposing and rethinking the store as well as understanding the combination of humanity and digitization.”

Sales associates have always had an ace up their sleeves. They keep detailed records of customer habits (albeit some in their heads), and this information has historically given them an edge in helping customers find what they want. But that’s no longer good enough to knock someone’s socks off—which should be the aim! To leave a truly lasting impact, customer service can’t just be pleasant. It should be perfect, prompting not just a mere “Thanks” but a wide-eyed “How the #@%! did they know that?”

What new tools should customer service wield?

It begins with technology that helps retailers gather, store, and deploy customer data before, during, AND after the point of sale. This data is tremendously valuable, but it should be seen as entirely proprietary to the retailer (meaning only they have the power to use it):

Twenty percent of the world’s data is searchable. Anybody can get to that 20. But 80 percent of the world’s data, which is where I think the real gold is, whether it’s decades of underwriting, pricing, customer experience, risk in loans – that is all with our clients. You don’t want to share it. That is gold.” — Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM

Customer data is the key to offering them fulfilling experiences, provided that retailers can powerfully innovate around this information—through data organization, visualization, and integration.

With storage securely in the cloud, businesses can integrate multiple sources of data to paint a full, evolving picture of the customer—based on in-store behavior, digital behavior, and emerging trends. In a sense, the cloud lives in tandem with the customer. It keeps developers agile, allowing them to rapidly introduce the tech flavor of the month, and it reduces operating costs in the long term through efficiency, so retailers can invest more in customer experience.

How can data drive more useful interactions in-store?

Even given the exponential rise in online shopping, the smartest retailers know that convenience and community are not mutually exclusive. They will use data to deliver a customer experience that is MORE human, not less:

“In this age of digitization, humans crave analog. And so the reality of retail is repurposing and rethinking the store as well as understanding the combination of humanity and digitization. So what technology can do is free up time for the consumer and free up time for employees which can then be reinvested to really connect and build personal relationships with customers. This will enrich lives, as well as simplify and transform the shopping process.” — Oliver Chen, Managing Director, Cowen & Company

Say an associate at a department store knows exactly which two-piece suits a loyal customer has viewed in the past 24 hours through the mobile app. This customer has already tested the fit of these suits through an augmented reality feature and picked out the one that he deems “Ryan Gosling-dapper” for an upcoming wedding. When he arrives in-store to pick it up, the associate greets him with the right size and a few similar options, just in case.

He then encourages the customer to “try on” (with AR) an equally dashing assortment of shirts, shoes, coats, and pocket squares that will complete the Ryan Gosling look. The retailer has identified these items by gathering fashion trends through image recognition on Instagram, Pinterest, and cameras in savvy locations from Milan to Tokyo. And now they’ve built a powerful connection with that customer.

It’s the full-court press, but the value isn’t purely the transaction—it’s the personalized relationship. The “perfect” approach to customer service is one that can pilot different innovations in the name of better knowing one’s customers, turning sales associates into magicians.

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Updated Jan 10, 2019 | Originally published April 2018